Women’s Equality Day: 10 Questions For Organizational Self-Reflection

August 26th is Women’s Equality Day in the U.S. I like the idea of this observance – particularly compared to Women’s History Month (celebrated in March), which I kind of hate.

To me, Women’s History Month is a triumph of corporate box-checking, where organizations dust off their pictures of Susan B. Anthony and traipse out speakers (for mostly female audiences) on topics like “dress for success.” Once the boxes are checked, organizations tend to declare “Mission Accomplished” and forget about it until next March.

But consider this. If you still have to celebrate a “History Month” for a segment of your workforce, then that group probably doesn’t yet enjoy equality in your organization.

I think Women’s Equality Day offers up a useful line of inquiry. It points us not to the past, but to the present and future. It points us not to prior success, but to the distance yet to travel to reach equality. It asks us not to brush our shoulders in self-congratulation, but to ask ourselves honestly where women actually stand in our world, society, communities and organizations.

So heck yes, bring on Women’s Equality Day. And let the questions begin.

  1. Look around the table at each successive level of the company’s power structure. Who’s at this table and who’s missing? If women (or any group) are noticeably missing, then you don’t yet have equality. Period.
  2. What’s happening on compensation? Look around those same leadership team tables. Analyze the compensation of each member. See any patterns?
  3. At what levels do the main drop-offs in representation occur?
  4. What organizational policies and structures might be creating these drop-offs?
  5. What societal forces might be contributing to these declines?
  6. How would your organizational structures and policies need to change to ensure that women had equal standing in this company?
  7. What informal cultural assumptions and practices might be restricting women from the same access, influence and inclusion that their male counterparts enjoy?
  8. Whose voices tend to carry weight and sway opinion in your company? In a circle of opinion-leaders, who tends to galvanize the decisions and actions? Who has to say something before people hear and act on it?
  9. What’s really at stake? If the organization does not see itself as paying a meaningful price for inequality, then meaningful change is unlikely. What price are we paying for the lack of equality? If our women are underused or undervalued, how does that affect profitability? Our brand? Our standing in our stakeholder community? To what extent does it affect our competition for the best and brightest talent? To what extent does it affect our employee engagement and innovation?
  10. Who benefits – and how – from an unequal playing field for women (or any other group)? Don’t pussyfoot around this question; the beneficiaries of inequality will likely be among the greatest barriers to change.

Women’s Equality Day is an invitation to take courageous stock. By all means, celebrate success and progress. But ask the hard questions as well. Confront the distance between where you are and true equality for women and all workplace “minorities.” The only thing you have to lose is your comfort. And there might be so much to gain.

Grit Gone Wild – How to Torpedo Your Brand In One Memo or Less

A client said to me once, “Really, Leslie, what does grace have to do with leadership? Does the heart really matter?” My answer is absolutely ‘yes,’ and Microsoft CEO Stephen Elop has given us a master class in why.

A couple of weeks ago, Elop sent out an all-company memo announcing layoffs at Microsoft. If you haven’t seen it yet, read it here. It’s spectacular – and not in a good way. http://nymag.com/daily/intelligencer/2014/07/microsoft-lays-off-thousands-with-bad-memo.html

Elop began the memo by rambling on about business conditions and product line strategy, using passive voice corporate-speak. After eleven excruciating paragraphs, he finally got to the punchline: Microsoft will be laying off about 10% of its people over the next year. Elop took all of one sentence to address the human side: “These decisions are difficult for the team, and we plan to support departing team members with severance benefits.” What a peach.

I get it. Tough times require tough choices. But the mistake that Elop and so many other executives make is to become hyper-rational in implementing those choices.  They hide behind numbers, market share and productivity stats while taking actions that alter people’s very human lives. Yes, the decision will hurt.  But when leaders cut themselves off  from the humanity of the situation, they cause additional injury to those affected, to those who remain, to the culture and to…themselves.

Elop provides all leaders with a cautionary tale of what can happen when executives implement tough decisions with gritty objectivity alone.

1.  His own brand plummeted. The firings won’t hurt Elop’s reputation nearly as much as the robotic way in which he communicated his decision. I would suspect that he’s lost significant leadership credibility: not only within the walls of Microsoft, but also among the worldwide business community (thanks to social media). That memo makes him and his entire team of advisors look out of touch and utterly tone deaf.

2.  He undermined his own corporate strategy. Here is the first phrase of Microsoft’s Vision statement (from its website): “Global diversity and inclusion is an integral and inherent part of our culture, fueling our business growth while allowing us to attract, develop, and retain this best talent.” Trust me, Mr. Elop. If I’m the best and brightest, why would I want to work for a company that handles a firing that way?

3.  He’s given the ‘survivors’ more pain to process. Layoffs are always traumatic. But announcing a layoff the way Mr. Elop did adds insensitivity to injury. More pain means a longer recovery.

What’s important to remember is that while Elop’s actions were an epic example of what not to do, he’s by no means alone. I’ve seen many executives abandon their company’s core values when times get tough. I’ve seen them hide behind numbers when talking to people whose lives they’ve just upended. I’ve seen them take the stance that “This is just business,” when it’s a whole lot more than that.  What they don’t realize is this: extricating themselves from the humanity of a difficult business decision doesn’t only affect their people. It affects their own reputation and credibility as leaders. So does the heart matter? Heck yes.

What about you?

  1. When have you skirted away from the human side of a difficult decision?
  2. What’s your ‘way’ of doing that?
  3. What are you trying to avoid or protect by doing that?
  4. What might the costs have been – to individual employees, to the health of the organization, and to your own credibility as a leader?
  5. What would you have to do differently in order to carry out a difficult decision in a way that acknowledges the humanity of the people affected?

 

 

 

What can turning leaves teach us about change?

It’s Fall in Washington, DC.  As I revel in the leaves’ changing color, my thoughts turn to the process of change. A few years ago, I learned something amazing about how the leaves actually turn.  The green itself does not change into a different color. Rather, the chlorophyl that creates the green simply falls away, revealing these amazing reds, oranges and yellows that were there all the time. The leaves don’t make the new colors happen.  They just let go of what’s dominated.

There’s a lesson in this for us.  It’s easy to to assume that we have to actively transform ourselves in order to change. There’s something we have to DO, someone new we have to become.  While I think that’s true to some degree, the leaves are an annual reminder that there is also a more receptiveside to change.  Change also happens when we are willing to simply let something dominant – a long-held belief, a fear, a grudge, etc. – recede.

Here’s an example from my own life.  I face a continual battle with effort.  Effort is my “color green,” one of my most dominant characteristics. I tell myself that it’s essential to who I am, that it’s what makes me valuable, worthwhile, special.  So I live my life thinking that 100% of what I do needs 100% effort, 100% of the time. While this can be great, it’s also something of a mess.  I often expend more energy than is necessary or even useful.  I can get wound up in perfectionism and become judgmental of myself and others.  So, yes, on the one hand, I’m known for delivering consistently high quality.  And it’s also been said that I can be something of a control freak and a prima dona.

Sheer exhaustion forced me to let go of some of that effort.  And what I’ve noticed is that when I stop trying so hard, when I simply let some of my dominant effort recede, something different and quite nice emerges.  I become a bit more open, more collaborative, less tense…without trying.  It’s a whole different hue that shows up, with its own surprising beauty and value.

What about you?

  • What changes would you like to see in your life?
  • What has been your predominant strategy for bringing those about, and how has that worked?
  • If you took the other side and tried to get there by dropping your dominant strategy, what might appear in its place?
  • Are you willing to take the risk?  If so, what would be your first step?